Today’s rant has been building inside me for a while now. The text that follows is not going to sit well with a number of those in my profession, but hey, that’s never stopped me before. During a recent interview I was asked how I felt about the coaching profession – I jokingly referred to myself as a coaching heretic, and went on to say that I really don’t like the word “coach” as a descriptor for what I do. The truth is that while I absolutely love what I do for a living, I’m not overly enamored with the industry norms and status quo. With that said, I decided to devote today’s post to providing a bit of context to the soundbites noted above. In the text that follows I’m going to share my perspective on why I believe the we need to rethink the definition of coaching…

I think it’s a healthy thing for all of us to take stock of our profession from time-to-time.  Each and every one of us needs to do a gut check on whether the industry we choose to be a part of is moving in the right or wrong direction, whether our personal efforts are contributing to the advance or decline of our profession, and in the case of coaching, the advance of decline of our clients. So I have a question for you, and I want you to be brutally honest with your answer – when you hear the word “coach” used outside the world of sports, what’s your gut reaction? Probably the same as mine – not so good.

Coaching is one of the fastest growing professions on the planet. I did a quick Google search for the term business coach and received 116 million returned results – if that doesn’t scare you it should. There is literally no barrier to entry into the coaching profession and it shows. While you need no credentialing to be a coach, you will find no shortage of organizations willing to sell you their certifications. Any number of franchised coaching offerings can be purchased at affordable prices, numerous affliliations with the hot coaching brand du jour are available for the asking, or if all else fails, coaches can just go it alone as a solo practitioner – the more the merrier right?

One of my major pet peeves with coaching is all the trifling and hair-splitting that goes on with defining what a coach is or is not. There is a real elitist attitude that pervades the industry which tends to be process oriented rather than client oriented. In my opinion this is a huge mistake. A coach is a professional who better be capable of meeting client needs and expectations by using any number of different methodologies based upon the specifics of the situation at hand. Let me be as blunt as I can – coaching is not about the coach, it’s about the client. It’s not about the process, it’s about results. It’s not about definitions, it’s about people.

Coaching is about delivering what the client needs  – it is not about a cute set of questions you picked-up during a certification class.  The problem with the coaching profession is that as a general rule it is a widely held belief (at least by coaches) that a good business coach need not have specific business expertise and experience in the same field as the person receiving the coaching in order to provide quality business coaching services. Hmmm…Furthermore, it is also generally accepted that coaching rests on the professional use of a specific range of linguistic skills such as targeted restatements and the judicious use of powerful questions with the aim to help clients shift their perspectives on an issue or ambition, and thereby “discover” different solutions and options, in order to achieve their goals.

Okay, let me see if I understand this…a good coach doesn’t necessarily need any experience, but if they’re a really good listener, can restate what their client tells them, and ask a few good questions, then they can miraculously lead a client to the ah-ha moment that transforms their life and their career. I could go on, but my guess is that you’re starting to get a sense for my frustration.

Maybe I’m old school, but attempting to provide advice and counsel to a client without having the experience of walking in their shoes is a recipe for disaster. I have had more than a few engagements that have come about as a result of the need to repair the carnage and devastation that occurred from the implementation of advice put forth, or the ideas generated by a well intentioned yet unqualified “coach”.

From my perspective a coach needs to possess the experience and track record to be whatever the client needs them to be, and to play whatever role will add the most value to the client. Coaching isn’t about esoteric definitions, scripted questions or canned processes. Rather it’s about having the time tested experience to make a difference. If as a coach, you don’t have the experience to guide someone through the varied contextual nuances and situational complexities that exist in any business environment, then you have no business pretending that you do.

As I mentioned earlier, I really don’t like the terms coach and mentor as descriptors for what I do as those labels tend to give a very limited impression of what it takes to deliver results for clients. Sure, in some cases I coach and mentor, but most of my clients simply view me as their closest personal advisor. The best coaches I know are capable of delivering a blend of personal and professional advice. They are able to play the role of ambassador, emissary, influencer, coach, facilitator, expediter, lobbyist, buffer/shield, crisis manager, negotiator, publicist, strategist, tactician, mentor, consultant, counselor, collaborative thinker and in some cases partner, based upon what the client needs.

Bottom line…good advisors make things happen and get things done at the behest of their clients for the purpose of enabling the accomplishment of anything ranging from a single task to a lifelong goal. They do what the client requires of them where qualified, and if they don’t possess the needed skill sets, competencies and experience they should not take the assignment. It’s just that simple. I don’t really care whether the client is aided by mentoring, teaching, development, training, counseling, coaching, consulting or a mix of all the above – I just care that they receive real results.

Now that I’ve stated my case, it’s time for you to weigh-in…what say you?

Related Post: The Leadership Vacuum


Mike Myatt
Mike Myatt

Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Boards of Directors. Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is recognized by Thinkers50 as a global authority on leadership. He is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership (Wiley) and Leadership Matters… (OP), a Forbes leadership columnist, and is the Founder and Chairman at N2Growth.

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